Alice : “May I record this interview Melanie?”

Melanie: “I suppose.”


Melanie: “This is- this is for CNN? Or…”

Alice : “I’m with the Associated Press. Ready to begin?”

Melanie: “Oh I thought… okay. Yes.”

Melanie: “Great. Today is February 19th, 2058 and I am in Brainard, Minnesota interviewing Melanie Haggens of the failed Starburst Mission.”

Melanie: Clears throat. “It’s Richards now.”

Alice: “I’m sorry?”

Melanie: A little louder. “My last name is Richards now.”

Alice: “Oh, of course. My apologies. Mrs. Richards, you have been missing since the return of the Starburst mission and it was only with great effort and expense that I was able to track you down almost a decade later. Is it true that you were hidden by the government after your team returned from Mars?”

Melanie: “No, not by the government. By the others.”

Alice: “The others?”

Melanie: “The others on the mission.”

Alice: “I see. And were you aware there is renewed interest in your case? In the events that took place during your time on Mars?”

Melanie: “No. Why is there renewed interest? I think we all just want to forget about what happened. It was so long ago.”

Alice: “It was actually less than a decade ago. Mrs. Richards, were you debriefed when you returned from the Starburst mission?”

Melanie: “No. Actually, I- I haven’t spoken of it in 9 years.”

Alice: “Since you returned in 2049.”

Melanie: “That’s right. I was sent here to Brainard. I met Ted here.” 

Alice: “Your husband?”

Melanie: “Yes. Why is there suddenly interest in Starburst again?”

Alice: “And you haven’t spoken about the events that took place on Deco Base with your husband?”

Melanie: “Of course not. I’m a different person now. I work at the library now. And my name is Kristen Richards.”

Alice: “But you are Melanie Haggens, the botanist on the 2041 Starburst mission to Mars, correct?”

Melanie: “I used to be.”

Alice: “Your husband doesn’t know you were an astronaut?” 

Melanie: “No. He…”

Alice: “He what?”

Melanie: “He wouldn’t believe me anyway.”

Alice: “Why not?”

Melanie: “Because of Gray.”

Alice: “I’m sorry, who is Gray?”

Melanie: “She’s…a little girl.”

Alice: “I’m confused, Mrs. Richards.”


Melanie: “What do you want to know about the Starburst mission?”

Alice: “Right… Melanie, let’s start at the beginning. Interviews have been published with all seven other members of Starburst and every single one of them has refused to speak abut what happened during your eight years on Deco Base.”

Melanie: “Yes. I- I wouldn’t think they would want to talk about it.”

Alice: “The government has even threatened a few of them with prison time but no one will admit how the seven of you escaped Deco Base after the marsquake. You have never been formally or informally interviewed because no one could find you. Would you like to talk about the events at Deco Base, now?”


Alice: “Melanie?”

Melanie: “I…”

Alice: “Are you alright? What are you looking at?”

Young child’s voice: “She’s looking at Gray.”

Alice: “Oh, hello.”

Young child’s voice: “My name’s Teagan. Are you interviewing Mommy for TV?”

Alice: “I’m interviewing your mommy for an article.”

Young child’s voice: “Oh. Well you can’t interview Gray. She doesn’t talk.”

Alice: “And who is Gray?”

Melanie: “Teagan, go to your room now.”

Young child’s voice: “But-“

Melanie: “Go!”

Teagan leaves.

Melanie: “I’m sorry about that.”

Alice: “Melanie… would you like to talk about Gray?”

Melanie: “Oh, Gray is just my kids’ imaginary friend. That’s – that’s what my husband says.”

Alice: “I see. And what do you say?”

Melanie: “Teagan starting talking about her as soon as he could complete sentences. He describes her as short, blonde. Maybe 5 or 6 years old. She…”

Alice: “She what?”

Melanie: “She always has her head tilted to the side. On her shoulder, like this. They say she has one arm raised high in the air over her head. Her little fingers gripping something.” 

Alice: “They?”

Melanie: “Both of my children claim they see Gray.”

Alice: “Does she speak to them?”

Melanie: “No. She cannot talk. She only stares.”

Alice: “Alright. Melanie, do you see her, too?”

Melanie: “Yes. My husband doesn’t believe me.”

Alice: “Is Gray here right now?”

Melanie: “She’s always here.”

Alice: “I see. Melanie, have you spoken to a doctor about Gray?” 

Melanie: “No. A doctor can’t help Gray.”

Alice: “Alright. Well…let’s return to Starburst. You were only 24 when you were offered a place on the mission, correct?”

Melanie: “Starburst…yes. I had just graduated. My final year I had a paper published-“ 

Alice: “The Solar Effort theory.”

Melanie: “Yes. The IMC thought it was brilliant. They wanted me to test out my theories on Mars. They told me all about Deco Base, which was almost completed at that time. We actually passed Journey 1 on our way to Mars.”

Alice: “Were you very excited?”

Melanie: “Yes. I was so young and…idealistic. I was certain I could grow vegetable bearing plants in Mars soil in a controlled environment, such as on Deco Base.”

Alice: “So you left in 2040 with your seven other crew members: four other scientists, a pilot, a medic, and a technical expert.”

Melanie: “Yes. I was the youngest but…they were all very nice to me. Cragson especially was interested in my research.”

Alice: “Mitch Cragson. The geneticist.” 

Melanie: “Yes, Mitch.”

Alice: “Did you get along with everyone?” 

Melanie: “Bonham, the pilot. She and I were close.” 

Alice: “What about Andrew Belker?” Pause.

Melanie: “I don’t want to talk about Andrew.”

Alice: “Alright. But you got along with everyone?”

Melanie: “More or less… They were all older than me. In their 30s and 40s. It was hard at first.”

Alice : “I’d imagine so. So you arrived in January of 2041. What was that like?”

Melanie: “It was nice to get off the ship. Everyone had driven each other a bit crazy by then. Cabin fever and all that.”

Alice: “Tell me about Deco Base.”

Melanie: “It was…big. Not that big thinking back but compared to the Journey 2 it was massive. I only had to share my room with one other person.” 

Alice: “Amanda Clark.”

Melanie: “Yes, Clark. She didn’t like me much.”

Alice: “She was in a relationship with Andrew Belker, is that right?”

Melanie: “I said I don’t want to talk about Andrew.”

Alice: “Of course. I’m sorry. Now, you were meant to remain at Deco Base for 13 months before returning to earth, correct?”

Melanie: “Yes.”

Alice: “And when did the marsquake happen?” 

Melanie: “May. Only four months into the mission.”

Alice : “Can you tell me about what happened that day?”

Melanie: “Everyone was in the Lab. It was the main room, the largest room of Deco Base. Mitch, he- he noticed one of tomatoes I had grown was a sort of purple instead of red or yellow. He wanted to document this and returned to his room for his laptop. He hadn’t been gone more than 2 minutes or so when it happened. I’m from California so I knew what it was right away. Everything just…shook. I could hear things crashing and falling. I hid under a table. Everyone else did, too. It lasted four minutes maybe. Afterward so much was broken. A lot of our equipment. The tunnels. The staging door.”

Alice: “And Mitch Cragson?”

Melanie: “He was trapped in his room. The tunnels had collapsed. None of them were compromised but they were impassable. We couldn’t get to him or he to us. Oxygen was still flowing to the lab but…we don’t know if it reached the rooms. I hope not. It’s better that Mitch just fell asleep then…then starved to death.”

Alice: “Of course. I understand. Melanie, tell me about the next few minutes after the quake?”

Melanie: “Everyone was in shock. Then mad, at Clark. They thought since she was the geologist she should have anticipated the marsquake. She said that it was impossible to predict. She said it isn’t like earth and it should only happen once every million years or so. There was a lot of fighting and arguing. I didn’t say anything. I was scared.”

Alice: “You were only 24.”

Melanie: “25 by then. I’d had a birthday at Deco Base.”

Alice: “So what happened over the next few days?”

Melanie: “We inventoried everything. What equipment had survived and what was broken. We talked a lot about what to do. Should we finish the mission and leave in February as planned or depart for earth immediately? Technically we had enough food to last, and even if we didn’t we could grow it. Most of the equipment we needed to continue our research had survived. But… we were all stuck in one room together. Everyone had turned on Amanda Clark, even Andrew. Everyone was mad at her. Everyone was miserable. Our Communication Scatter was wrecked.

There would be no further contact with San Diego until we could get in range of Earth on the Journey 2, which, we weren’t even sure if the craft had survived.”

Alice: “So what happened?”

Melanie: “In the end we decided to return home immediately.”

Alice: “Everyone agreed?”

Melanie: “All of us, unanimously. It was horrible, all living in one room together. One toilet, two sinks, no shower. So we all suited up, and went to leave Deco Base.”

Alice: “Alright, Melanie, most of what you’ve told me so far has been public knowledge. Everything that happened next has never been spoken of by the Starburst team so I’d like you to give as much detail about the following events as possible.”

Melanie: “Alright, well…”


Alice: Melanie?”


Alice : “Melanie? Mrs. Richards? What are you looking at?”


Alice: Is it the little girl, again?

Melanie: “I need to finish telling you. Everything.”

Alice: “Would you like a glass of water?”

Melanie: “No. I’m fine.”

Alice: “Melanie…does Gray have anything to do with what happened at Deco Base?”

Melanie: Quietly. “We didn’t know she was there.”

Alice: “Wait. Are you saying there was a child at Deco Base? Melanie, please concentrate. The mission before Starburst was Element. Element built Deco Base, you said you passed their ship on the way. Are you telling me, on record, that they left behind a child?”

Melanie: “Please just let me finish telling you everything. We- we did know she was there. But…please don’t judge us. We didn’t know what else to do.”

Alice: “There were reports of a pregnancy on the Element Mission but the official summary said the pregnancy was terminated.”

Melanie: “You don’t understand the state our minds were in at the time.”

Alice: “Tell me about the child, Melanie.”

Melanie: “You have to understand the rest first. It…the door was two phase. A lever on the security console opened the door to the staging bay, where our suits were. It used a biometric human heat signature to authorize the egress sequence. The lever, when you pulled it, would start a 30 second countdown to let everyone get inside the staging bay. There were a further four minutes to put on our suits before the lab door closed and the door to the atmosphere opened. It took approximately one minute to don the suit and the sequence could be aborted at anytime from inside the staging bay.”

Alice: “And this is what the remaining seven of you attempted.”

Melanie: “Yes. But the system had been broken. When we tried to initiate the egress sequence, the countdown started. But immediately after you took your hand off the lever, the sequence aborted.”

Alice: “What does that mean?”

Melanie: “It means that in order complete the sequence, and open the door, the lever could not be dropped. If it was dropped, the system aborted the egress sequence entirely.”

Alice: “Meaning that in order to open the door to the atmosphere, someone had to remain behind and hold the lever.”

Melanie: “Exactly.”

Alice: “My God. So someone needed to sacrifice themselves in order for the rest of you to escape.”

Melanie: “Yes. And wait for those of us who had escaped to contact mission control in San Diego. Then San Diego would need to scramble a mission to rescue the remaining person. That would take a year or so, even if everything moved at a breakneck pace.”

Alice: “And no one offered to stay behind?”

Melanie: “Not even one of us. We knew…well, the IMC was not well funded under the administration we left when we departed earth. We talked about it quite a bit. We all knew there was a fair chance that the IMC would not see the cost benefit in sending a rescue mission for one person after a failed mission. They had just dumped billions into Riso Base on the other side of the planet.”

Alice: “Couldn’t six of you escape and then open the door from the outside to let the remaining person out?”

Melanie: “No. That sequence was also part of the damaged console.” 

Alice: “And your technical expert tried to repair it?” 

Melanie: “Yes. Belker, he…he said it was all broken.”

Alice : “I see. So the only option was for someone to stay behind and pray help would be sent.”

Melanie: “Yes.”

Alice: “Melanie, all seven of you came back.”

Melanie: Quietly “Yes.”

Alice: “How?”

Melanie: “Because of her.”

Alice: “The child left behind by the Element mission?”

Melanie: “Because of- of Gray.”


Melanie: “She was…she didn’t talk. She didn’t have any facial expressions or personality. It wasn’t like she was even a human being.”

Alice: “Melanie, I know Deco Base was large, but how had a child hidden there for so many months? Survived so many months alone and then hidden from your team when you arrived on Deco Base?”

Melanie: “You don’t understand. She wasn’t really a person.”

Alice: “Can you explain that?”

Melanie: “No one ever interacted with her. She was used to being alone or..or ignored I think.”

Alice: “Melanie, this is very important…did you use the child you discovered on Deco Base to hold the lever so that seven of you could escape?”

Melanie: “We had to.”

Alice: “You left a child there? Alone?”

Melanie: “There was plenty of food. The tomatoes were growing, potatoes, even cabbage-“

Alice: “She was a child, Mrs. Richards!”

Melanie: “She wasn’t. But, she could feed herself. And water.”

Alice: “And after you left, you never let anyone know? Organized rescue for her?”

Melanie: “We couldn’t. We knew we couldn’t, we talked about it. Everyone would know what we’d done.”

Alice: “Your team is disgusting. Despicable. But even so, she could still be saved. It’s been nine years since you’ve returned. If what you said is true, Gray could still be alive.”

Melanie: “No. No, she’s dead. The crops would have gone through their natural life cycle. There would be no food after five years or so…”


Alice: “No. I can’t… Holy mother of God. If true, this is a monstrous act. I’ve never heard anything quite like it. Melanie, what you and your team did was…inhuman.”

Melanie: “You don’t understand. She was blank. Just a body. Just a- a- a shell! No one spoke to her for years. There was nothing there.”

Alice: “She was a child, and you used her. Sacrificed her to survive. A little girl. Alone on a planet with no one!”

Melanie: “No. She wasn’t real.”

Alice: “She was real. If you used her to open the door, to push up the lever, the biometrics, Mrs. Richards, Gray was very real. I see now why she haunts your home, your mind, even your children.”

Melanie: “No, you don’t understand at all. She wasn’t a real child. I have real children. They smile and laugh and play. Gray was simply a tool. Andrew, he reconfigured the system to recognize her. We taught her how to hold the lever up. She never asked a question. Never showed an emotion. She was more of a, a robot maybe.”

Alice: “No, she wasn’t. This is what you and the others tell yourselves to assuage the guilt about what you’d done. No wonder Starburst hid you away from the public. What you did stripped you of your humanity. All of you.”

Melanie: “It was eight years. We were stuck in that fucking lab for eight years! You would have done it, too. I know you would have.”

Alice: “Eight years, that is what doesn’t make sense to me. You must have found Gray immediately. Discovered her within the first year or so. And yet it took seven more years for you to find the “courage” to do what you did.”

Melanie: “You still don’t understand.”

Alice: “When this drops, Mrs. Richards, it will destroy the Starburst legacy AND that of Element. Everyone will be held responsible.”

Melanie: “You’re not listening! Element had nothing to do with this!”

Alice: “Element lied about a pregnancy termination and left a child alone on a planet for five months!”

Melanie: “She wasn’t from the Element mission!”

Alice: “Are you saying she was a martian, Mrs. Richards?” 

Melanie: “No!”

Alice: “A phantom?”

Melanie: “Of course not!”

Alice: “Then where did Gray come from?!” 

Melanie: “We made her!”


Melanie: We made her, alright?”

Alice: “What are you… just what are you saying?”

Melanie: Crying. “We needed another person. Someone to satisfy the biometrics. Someone to hold the lever.”

Alice: “So you…”

Melanie: “I was chosen. I was the youngest. The most fertile.”

Alice: “My god…”

Melanie: “Andrew, he…he volunteered. It took two months. I was pregnant for eight and a half. Avenson, our medic. He delivered Gray. And then..and then we knew we had to wait. We figured when she was four, maybe five, she would be strong enough to hold the lever up.”

Alice: “You… you made a baby. You raised it. With the sole purpose of sacrifice?”

Melanie: “We fed her but, we barely ever spoke directly to her. Never looked at her. Never touched her. Amanda hated her, I think because of what Gray was to Andrew. She was the only one who gave Gray any attention. The only time the rest of us acknowledged her was when she was old enough to understand that she had an important job. We described the lever to her. Told her everyone had a purpose and this was hers. But…she was a small child. Malnourished, we all were. She should have been able to hold the lever at 4 but she was slight and short. It took until she was 6.”

Alice: “You are all monsters.”

Melanie: “No, no, you still don’t understand. Gray was the monster. That’s why we called her Gray, her skin was Gray from lack of sunlight and poor diet. She was born without a soul. No personality. Don’t you see? Because she was born to be a tool, that’s all she was. A shell. There was nothing behind her eyes. If you could see her, standing there against the wall right now, you would know what I mean. You would know we weren’t monsters. Gray was.”

Alice: “She haunts you. Everyday.”

Melanie: “On the day we decided we could finally trust her to hold the lever for the full four and a half minutes, we told her to do her very important job. I remember looking back through the staging bay door. I could see her, skinny, little arm high over her head holding up the lever. She stared at me as I pulled my helmet on, stared still as I turned away for the last time. See, we never told Gray where she came from but I think she knew. I think she knew I made her.”

Alice: “And she’s still standing there. Staring at you. Holding the lever, even now.”

Melanie: “Even now. She stares… I worry one day, one day she will drop it.”

Alice: “It wouldn’t matter. She’s a ghost of your shame and you’re safely back on earth, now. The child you created to pay for that opportunity died alone on a distant planet. No one is holding that lever anymore, Melanie.”

Melanie: Quietly. “You’re wrong. I can see her right now.”

Alice: “What you see is only a manifestation of your guilt.”

Melanie: “No, no, no. There is no guilt. She wasn’t a child. Do you get it? We created her for one purpose and it wasn’t to be anyone’s child. Do you understand?”

Alice: “This interview is over.”

Melanie: “Tell me you understand! Tell me you know that Gray was just a purpose, not a human being! She was only the lever!”

Alice: “Thank you for your time, the article will post within 48 hours.”

Melanie: “She wasn’t a child like my Teagan or Avery! You know that right? She wasn’t my child!”

Alice: “Goodbye, Mrs. Richards.”

Melanie: Wait! Wait. Please. Just tell me. Why do people care about Deco Base again? Why the renewed interest?”

Alice: “Because, Melanie, the ICM recently received a ping from the ether of space, from 33 million miles away. Right in the vicinity of Mars, actually. But no one is there. Right? Except…now we know that is a lie.”

Melanie: “No, Gray is dead! She definitely dead! Whatever they’re bringing back is-”